A Green Errand Gone Bad


While on my morning errand, I happened to catch a BBC radio interview with a fellow described as a "Climate Campaigner." When asked by the interviewer if doing small things like changing the light bulbs or recycling really do any good for the climate, no was was the essence of his very serious sounding answer.

The Campaigner, who had been granted his proverbial ten minutes of fame, went on to explain that among the several 'big things' we need to do to seriously mitigate our climate-banging habits, one of the top ones was to stop putting food waste into the landfill - actually some call it a "tip;" but, that's the same thing.

This no food-dumping change of habit was important, the Campaigner explained, 'because in the landfill, organic food waste generates methane' (pronounced with a long "e").

And the advice went unchallenged by the BBC interviewer. Or, at least the rest of the conversation, as they say in the business, ended up "on the cutting room floor". It seems this food waste management thinking is fairly common in the UK, per this link.

Wow.Prospectively, millions of listeners are left to wonder if it's better to use a garbage disposal and flush food waste away?

The answer is, it depends on how good your poop works is designed and managed (if you live in a place that even has municipal wastewater treatment) and whether the river or lake receiving the wastewater effluent has enough assimilative capacity to avoid going anoxic, in which case it could most certainly liberate plenty of methane to the atmosphere.

Compost heaps and wet soils can host the same anaerobic bacteria which generate methane in a landfill, though perhaps not with the same intensity and thoroughness as a landfill or fetid pond would. While the Campaigner's advice might pump up sales of kitchen composters or line up more folks for a municipal composting service - and those would be fine for overall resource efficiency reasons - a question the interviewer might have asked for the international audience is: "Isn't a landfill little more than a giant compost heap?"

The answer is a conditional "Yes", depending, again, on how it is designed and managed!

The second follow up question the interviewer might have asked is this:- "Isn't it better to send food waste to the tip or to a community compost facility, and professionally capture the methane to generate electricity?"

We'll let our readers answer this one.

Take home points from the my "green errand".

I'll need to buy my cold cathode CFL's online, as the stores in my area do not yet stock them. Seems I wasted the gas or "petrol" on this errand.

Blogs have evolved an easy means for readers to hold interviewed "campaigners" of any sort accountable for mis-statements, inaccuracies, or flawed logic. And writers, too, for failing to ask critical questions that add cultural or technical context.

The world's broadcast and print media still are left unaccountable for such, or are challenged so belatedly by "letters to the editor" or call in complaints that the audience has moved on, propagating new species of green urban legends.

Note to self: if interviewed for radio, state the preferred green lifestyle choice, give technical justifications, and emphasize prospective exceptions to the rule.

The more volatile and unfamiliar the issue is (climate mitigation/adaptation for example) and the more the topic has moved out of the realm of scientific expertise and into broadcast media confabulation and popular culture, the greater the likelihood that we'll need to turn up our green bovine excrement detectors. Just to avoid the meeeeethane.

Image credit::Boston Menu Pages, Food Recycling Services

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